Here we go again. This week news of another shocking nursing home death – this time in The Wexford, a Scarborough long term care residence. A second resident was also injured in the resident-on-resident attack.
Health Minister Deb Matthews predictably told the Toronto Star “if there is anything that can be learned from this incident, you have my commitment that action will be taken.”
In 2003 then Health Minister George Smitherman was moved to tears after a Toronto Star series on resident abuse. His famously vowed a “revolution” in long-term care.
In 2005 a Coroner’s jury made 85 recommendations after investigating the 2001 deaths of two residents at the hands of another in a different Toronto-area nursing home.
At the time the report was released, the home’s lawyer suggested there was a gap in the system for specialized long-term care units for residents with cognitive impairment (today that describes almost a third of all long-term care residents).
Smitherman declined comment that time.
In 2008 David Caplan was asked about a Canadian Press series that showed three-quarters of Ontario long-term care homes were not in compliance with provincial legislation. Caplan said he was too new to the post to comment and promised nothing.
In 2010 Metroland, which operates community newspapers across Ontario, ran its own series on long-term care. They called it “Situation Critical.”
At the time Health Minister Deb Matthews admitted there’s a problem, but said it will take time to turn the system around.
In 2012, after yet another scandalous story about neglect, abuse and rape in Ontario’s long term care homes, Matthews called in leaders of the nursing home “industry,” associations and advocacy groups and asked them to form a task force. That included one union representative – SEIU’s Sharleen Stewart.
“After your series, I called them to my office,” Matthews told the Toronto Star. “They didn’t defend, deflect or try to explain away. They said we’ve got a problem and we’re going to fix it.”
“I needed them to know that I take this issue very, very seriously,” said Matthews.
Matthews was quick to point out that she personally felt the situation was not about money, but about “culture.”
When the Long Term care Task Force on Resident Care and Safety did issue their report later that year, they noted that in 2011 alone there had been 16,659 critical incidents reported in Ontario’s long term care homes.
The task force recognized that there are not enough direct care staff to meet the needs of all long-term care residents safely and recommended that the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care implement the 2008 recommendations of the Sharkey report on strengthening staff capacity for better care.
That, incidentally, does involve money, not culture.
The labour movement has been calling for a staffing standard in long-term care for more than a decade. We came close – Smitherman had promised as much in the 2007 general election, but ironically that was abandoned after the Sharkey report was issued.
In their first progress report in January of this year, the task force notes that since 2008 – four years before the task force even began – that an additional 2,500 personal support workers and more than 900 nursing positions were newly funded in Ontario’s 634 home long-term care sector. During the same period, we should note, Ontario hospitals were strong armed into emptying their alternate level of care beds by sending patients to convalesce in nursing and retirement home beds. With 20,000 Ontarians waiting for a long-term care bed, only those with the highest acuity levels were being admitted.
Last year we reported that the new Resident Quality Inspections (RQI) were taking up to five years to complete because of a lack of inspections staff. Further, the huge backlog of complaints meant that investigations were taking up to a year to follow-up.
The Wexford long-term care home, at the heart of this latest story about resident-on-resident violence, shows only complaints and critical incident inspections from 2010-2013 on-line. That means there has been no thorough inspection of the home since at least 2009.
At the time Deb Matthews stunned us by saying only homes that receive frequent complaints will get a Resident Quality Inspection. The Wexford had eight complaints in three years plus two critical incident inspections. Evidently that wasn’t enough to make them a priority.
“If a home is getting a significant number of complaints then that raises the flag that this home requires a full (inspection),” Matthews told the Toronto Star’s Moira Walsh.
What’s stunning about the task force’s January progress report is how much of it is about beginning work on these issues.
Red flags have been going up from the moment the Liberals gained power in 2003. Why is it we are just beginning to address these questions in 2013? That’s 10 lost years.
On Monday the province’s Family Council Four Network will be holding a press conference at Queen’s Park and presenting a petition calling for more staffing in Ontario’s long term care homes.
The question is, will they get anything more than empty promises this time?